NAACP hosts mayoral candidates forum

Democratic Party candidate Mayor Chasity Wells-Armstrong, left, listens as opponent Angela Shea answers a debate question during the Kankakee County Branch of the NAACP’s candidates forum ahead of the Feb. 23 Kankakee primary election.

KANKAKEE — A special Kankakee City Council meeting to discuss if there is a need for an independent investigation into allegations of improper donations to Kankakee Mayor Chasity Wells-Armstrong’s re-election campaign fund has been set.

The meeting is set for 5:30 p.m. Wednesday in the Kankakee City Council chambers. For the meeting to take place, at least eight council members must be in attendance.

According to the agenda posted late last week, council members will be seeking a vote to conduct an investigation regarding allegations of violations of the city’s municipal ethics codes regarding political donations from individuals and businesses which have contracts with the city.

The accusation was brought forward by Angela Shea, who is seeking the Democratic Party nomination in the Feb. 23 primary.

If there is support on the council regarding the need for an investigation, the meeting agenda has a second matter which calls for the appointment of a special counsel to conduct the investigation.

A third agenda item requests a motion to provide authority for the special counsel to issue subpoenas for fact-gathering information.

This matter comes during what would be considered the 11th hour of the city’s Feb. 23 primary election in which Wells-Armstrong is attempting to gain a second four-year term. She is being challenged by Shea, a board of education member of the Kankakee school district.

Shea has questioned several donations made to the mayor’s campaign. Among the donations are:

• City legal counsel law firm Odelson & Sterk, which has donated $4,250 to the campaign.

• Kankakee’s Springfield lobbyist Vince Williams, which has donated $3,000 to the campaign.

• Christopher B. Burke Engineering of Rosemont, which has donated $1,650 to the campaign.

• Republic Services, a Phoenix, Ariz.-based waste hauler. The firm which hauls Kankakee garbage and recycling materials has donated $1,650 to the campaign.

According to Illinois Board of Elections data, Wells-Armstrong currently has a campaign fund balance of $47,772. Shea has a fund balance of $2,482.

In a Feb. 9 letter from Wells-Armstrong and printed on paper with letterhead “Re-Elect Chasity For Mayor,” the mayor said these allegations are the “latest indication of a distressed [Shea] campaign, only building enough support to raise a dismal $500 total in the last filing period.”

The mayor characterized these allegations as “deliberate attempts to mislead voters, and attacks on community stakeholders” and she stated no one participated in “pay to play” politics in the Wells-Armstrong administration.

“No entity was promised any work from the City of Kankakee as a result of a campaign contribution,” the letter read.

The mayor noted donations from the city’s law firm came to her campaign prior to 2020.

Shea said the mayor’s misconduct must be addressed. She said the reason the issue has only recently come up was due to the fact she just discovered it.

“Had I found this earlier, I would have brought it out the [public],” she said. “The city council is the one taking action. They have said this is worth looking at.”

In a statement on her campaign material, Shea said, “Allowing this to continue for even one more day would be a slap to the face of city taxpayers.”

Specifically, Shea has brought forward alleged violations found on Wells-Armstrong’s election campaign disclosure filings. The city code at issue, Shea said, is Section 2-223©, of the city’s ethics ordinance, which prohibits these political donations.

Sect. 2-223© reads: “Campaign Contributions: No person who, in his or her own name or in the name of any other person, who has a financial interest in, or who has bid upon any contract, work, or business of the City of Kankakee within the previous four years, shall make any contribution to any candidate for office of the City of Kankakee, or to any official of the City of Kankakee who is seeking election to any other office in an aggregate amount exceeding $1,500.00 for all such contributions to that candidate or official during a single candidacy. ...”

Violations are listed in Section 2-226, Shea said. She said the alleged conduct calls for the city council to conduct an investigation, hold hearings and impose discipline which could result in censure, fines or removal from office. Such action could also lead the council to reconsider the contracts issued to these providers.

The call for the meeting was based on information provided by Shea to six Kankakee City Council members. Those council members are Chris Curtis, R-6; Tyler Tall Sr., D-5; Jim Faford, R-4; Larry Osenga and Dave Crawford, R-3; and Mike O’Brien, D-2.

The aldermen who signed the special meeting request were Curtis, Tall, Faford, Osenga and Crawford.

As of today, there is only one week remaining before the conclusion of the Feb. 23 election voting.

Crawford said aldermen are not accusing the mayor of anything.

“We felt we owed it to our constituents and the taxpayers to look into these allegations,” Crawford said. “We are not saying she is guilty or innocent. We are just looking for information to be gathered.”

Lee Provost, an award-winning reporter, has been writing local news stories for The Daily Journal since 1988. He is a lifelong resident of the region. Provost can be reached at lprovost@daily-journal.com.